Utah's U.S. Senator Bob Bennett must finally realize he's in a real fight for his political life. An August 31st, 2009 Utah County straw poll showing him running third behind fellow Republicans Mark Shurtleff and Cherilyn Eagar must have finally awakened him to the precarious nature of his political stewardship.
So Senator Bennett has reached into his immigration playbook, and pulled out a prospective Hail Mary play. He's introduced a bill which, if passed, would require the U.S. Census Bureau to collect information about the citizenship status of each person contacted during the 2010 census. The three-page bill, which has not received an alphanumerical designation yet, is entitled the "Fairness In Representation Act". According to this Deseret News story, the three co-sponsors are Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Jim Bunning (R-KY). The Salt Lake Tribune has also published a story.
Senator Bennett explained his concerns. "It does not make any sense for congressional seats and the Electoral College to be determined by a process that unfairly provides the advantage to those communities with high illegal populations," said Bennett. By requiring a citizenship question on the form, he said, the census will show how many legal citizens there are.
But is it a timely solution, or is Bennett merely locking the barn door after the livestock have escaped? It is questionable whether or not the Census Bureau could even implement the legislation in time for the 2010 census if the bill passed. Or if the Census Bureau did implement it in time for 2010, it could cost the nation big money for them to re-tool. This is because the U.S. Census Bureau has already started printing the 120 million questionnaires, with just 10 questions each, that will be sent to residents early next year. It has also spent millions to encourage people of all backgrounds to respond, noting that funding for their communities is often based on population counts. The Census Bureau has frequently stressed that information it collects currently cannot be used by law to identify illegal immigrants or to help deport them; Bennett's bill contains no specific language restricting law enforcement from obtaining and using the information to identify and deport illegals.
Consequently, if Bennett was seriously concerned about this issue, he could have pushed a similar bill long before now, in plenty of time for the Census Bureau to react. I do not accuse Bennett of opportunism, because, unlike Chris Cannon, who was both arrogant and incompetent, Bob Bennett is merely incompetent. He's a decent guy who's just awakened to the fact that his long service in Washington has excessively insulated him from the concerns of everyday Utahns. He has not seen the graffiti metastasizing all over the Wasatch Front. He has not heard the gunshots that echo weekly in the Glendale, Poplar Grove, and Rose Park neighborhoods of West Salt Lake which keep residents in a chronic state of apprehension. In short, he has not experienced the effects of diversity up close and personal as an increasing number of Utahns have.
And that, more than anything else, is why Bob Bennett is in political trouble. His bill is welcome, but by itself it will not appreciably help his campaign. And while Bennett is consuming himself going after Mark Shurtleff, who he perceives as his main primary opponent, Cherilyn Eagar is just sitting back, licking her chops, and waiting to pick up the pieces. Eagar reacted to this story by saying that given Bennett's dismal "pro-amnesty" immigration record, she's surprised by his move but supports it. "I just have to applaud the senator for taking an 11th hour step in the right direction," Eagar said. But she also questioned Bennett's intentions since it might be too late to effect any change. Mark Shurtleff is reserving comment until he sees the specific draft bill.
And of course, self-appointed Hispanic gadfly Tony Yapias was quick to start yapping about the bill. Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, complained that Bennett sends the proverbial "wrong signal", that he's pandering to the right-wing base, and that it could cost Utah millions in Federal dollars. Yada, yada, yada. Yapias is so predictable you could set your watch by him.